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The First Congregational Church, Columbus Ohio
Sunday, October 1, 2006
A sermon delivered by The Rev. Timothy Ahrens

Dedicated to our men and women in the armed services, all who work for world peace and always to the glory of God!
For Such a Time as This
Esther 4:5-16, Mark 9:38-50

Today is an autumnal Sunday morning in Columbus, Ohio. We are half way through the season of "second guessing." Call them armchair quarterbacks or couch-potato head coaches - call them what you will - we live in a city where all but the humble (and the disinterested) are experts on questions related to how Coach Tressel and young Troy Smith should have handled themselves in last night's "big Buckeye game." For the record (since I brought it up and as an expert who never played one down of organized football), I can tell you they handled this one exceptionally well.

Beyond this season of second-guessing, we live in a society of second guessers. With the passing of football, our supposed expertise will continue to other fields. In fact, we don't need to wait for the end of the season. We can do this year round. We can say how doctors, business leaders, judges, lawyers, school teachers, principals, ministers, governors, four star generals and especially the President of the United States of America should have acted on issues and items, decisions and details placed before them.

But, do we really know? When our time comes, personally and professionally, how will you and I respond to the challenges, questions, decisions, and details placed before each one of us? For those who are children and teens, think of this: when you see "bad things" happen in your life and to those around you, will you respond by doing the right thing? Will you stand up, speak out, and make a difference in this world? It's a lot to ask of any person, especially one who is young, but we must remember, Queen Esther, as a teenager saved the Jews from extermination. Listen to her story.

One of the great scriptural measures of how to respond in the face of a crisis is the story of Esther - only one of two biblical books named for a woman - the other being Ruth. Parenthetically, Esther is a book in which God is never mentioned by name, making it one of only two books in Hebrew Scripture in which this happens (Ecclesiastes is the other one).

Esther became Queen of Persia in 479 BC. Unbeknownst to King Ahasuerus, Esther was a Jew. Although Esther never deceived her husband about her religious faith, she never spoke of her love and allegiance to God and to her people. Her Jewish heritage didn't seem to matter until the arrogant and evil Haman used his power to bring an edict of death to all Jews.

Esther's Uncle Mordecai, who has raised Esther as his daughter since her parents died, steps forward to appeal for help from his adopted daughter. He says, "Don't think that just because you live in the king's house you will be the one Jew to get out of this alive. If you persist in being silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from some place else, but you and your family will be wiped out. Who knows? Maybe you were made to be queen for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:13-14).

In other words, this is the moment God has given you to lead. Will you choose it? Will you be the leader God has called you to be? Or, will you shirk your responsibility and remain silent? "Who knows?" says Mordecai. God knows, is the implication in this pregnant question. But, he points out, if you don't choose to lead, God will find another to do the job! This paradoxical truth both stings and reassures. You can walk away from leadership. But, God won't walk away from the salvation of the Jews. He will find another way!

Esther chooses to lead - her way. Esther prays and asks for direction and deliverance. From the depth of her faith and conviction, Esther devises a plan which includes dinner parties and exposure of Haman's wrongdoings. Through the plan, Haman is hung, Mordecai is elevated to a trusted leader, and the Jews are saved. In the generations that follow, Esther's son, Darius becomes the King who returns the Jews from exile to Jerusalem and oversees the rebuilding of David's city and Solomon's Temple. So in the end, Esther not only saves her people from extermination; she is the heir to their return from exile to their homeland.

This story calls to all of us, for such a time as this. Throughout time, God has used the gifts of common and uncommon people in times and locations through which and in which they have impacted history. Like Esther, some of these people are known to us, for their stories are written down. Others, we do not know. All of them responded to God's calling at "such a time as this" in their world.

There are many whom I could name. But, I lift up three whose lives sequentially connected 51 years ago in Mississippi and Alabama. Together this connection and link to a generation of others changed America. On August 24, 1955, a 14-year-old, African-American teenager Emmett Till was hanging out with his cousin one evening on the porch of the general store in Money, Mississippi - whose town motto was "A Great Place to Raise a Boy." Emmett went in the store, bought some candy and as he was leaving (supposedly) told a white woman named Carolyn Bryant, "Bye, Baby." Three days later, Bryant's husband and another man drove to the house where Emmett was staying, hauled him out of the cabin, brutally beat him and tossed him in the Tallahatchie River where he was found four days later.

150 miles away and 96 days later on December 1, 1955, a 42-year-old seamstress named Rosa Parks refused to move from her seat on a Montgomery bus so that others could stand up and walk tall when the racist society and bus driver screamed, "move out of that seat, lady!" When asked later what she was looking at as she gazed through the window of that city bus that night, she answered, "I saw the faces of my father and Emmett Till and I knew I couldn't stand up for injustice anymore."

1 ½ miles from that bus stop, a 26-year-old minister, The Rev. Martin Luther King. Jr. was preparing his Advent sermon for Sunday, December 3rd. Little did he know that his life was about to change forever from quietly serving Dexter Ave. Baptist Church, a middle-class African-American congregation where he had come to begin his ministry, start his family and finish his PhD from Boston University, to leading a bus boycott (which he did not initiate) and changing the fate of America through a nonviolent civil rights movement. King later says, "The face of Rosa Parks always remained with me." - just as Emmett's face and memory was always with Rosa.

I believe that in each of our lives, God places moral choices which impact history. These may seem small, but every time we push back the darkness of our age, God's light breaks through.

When we see something wrong in school, we speak out against it, the light of God breaks through. We see something wrong at work, we resist it and respond by correcting it and the light of God breaks through. We see the abuse of our faith in the public square or in the square tube of our TV, we speak out against it, the light of God breaks through. Each of us, in so many ways, finds our voice to say the right thing and do the right thing. Each time we do this, the light of God breaks through.

We must do this. If we stop, we desist from being fully human and from being followers of Jesus Christ. O yes . . . Jesus. Remember Jesus? Wasn't it Jesus who called the Pharisees blind fools, his apostles light of the world and called his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him on the path of justice and righteousness? As followers of Jesus, we are called to sacrifice and lead in such a time as this.

Now this may seem like an odd transition, but in this season of stewardship, we need to ready ourselves for sacrificial leadership in this church. One way we can sacrifice and lead in First Church is to listen to, heed, and follow the call of our Stewardship Committee as they call us to "Leap to New Heights of Giving." They have been praying for and planning a great campaign this fall. They believe that our growing and ever, faith-deepening church has the ability to leap forward (not just step forward) in giving. I believe they are right. I believe this coming year will be a time for leaping forward in our giving - through our treasure, our time, and our talent. Each year, we seem to fall just a little short of giving goals. In such a time as this, we need each individual and each family to leap forward in giving. We have the potential and the ability to do this.

Some of us have not taken a leap in a long time - maybe never. We take baby steps. But, let's remember that once a baby begins to walk, the child runs almost immediately. They seem to catapult themselves forward. So, if we are still baby stepping, maybe we need to follow the examples of our babies and catapult ourselves forward in giving! Now is the time. And if you don't like catapulting, leap! But, move dramatically forward.

Like Esther, Mordecai, Emmett, Rosa, and Martin, we need to look inside ourselves at such a time as this and respond with love, conviction, and - in the case of stewardship - with tithing and giving which moves forward - no leaps forward! Begin to pray about what your commitment will be to the future of the church. On October 29th - four weeks from today, you will be called on to leap forward in giving. Let's leap together - for such a time as this.

As we turn to Christ's table of grace, may our hearts and minds be in Christ Jesus, who gave his life for us when faced with the difficulties of his time! In such a time as this, God is calling us to do the same. Amen.

Copyright 2006, The First Congregational Church